Gulf War Widow Shares Story of Healing, Hope
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
GREENSBURG, Pa., Feb. 28, 2001 At 26, Paula Boliver found herself a widow and single-parent with a one-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.
Her 27-year-old husband John A. Boliver Jr., an Army Reserve soldier, had gone off to war in the Persian Gulf and he was never coming home.
John was one of 13 soldiers of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment killed Feb. 25, 1991, when an errant Iraqi Scud missile hit the unit's temporary barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Somehow, as she must, Paula survived her loss. She bonded with other family members who'd also lost loved ones, sharing both pain and comfort. Four years after John's death, Paula remarried and had another child. Today, she can reflect on the tragedy and the lessons learned. Paula spoke candidly about her struggle at a 10th anniversary memorial service here.
Each year the Greensburg-based detachment holds a memorial service on Feb. 25 at 12:28 p.m., the exact time the Scud missile devastated the barracks. Public donations poured in following the tragedy and the unit and townspeople built a monument honoring those who served in Desert Storm.
This year, several hundred filled the gym at the Greensburg Central Catholic High School. Along with remarks by a congressman, the chief of the Army Reserve and other officials, people heard Paula's story of loss and loneliness, hope and healing.
Of all, Paula's heartfelt words most hit home. At times tears ran down her cheeks and her voice faltered. Other times, her smile beamed as she spoke of her new family and looked at her baby daughter, Alison, decked in a red-velvet dress in the front row. When she finished, the teary-eyed crowd gave her a standing ovation.
A transcript of Paula's speech follows:
"If 10 years ago I could have looked ahead to today and could have seen myself standing here telling all of you that I'm happy, healed and whole again, it would have made my time of grief so much easier. Because then I would have known that my heart would someday heal and life would be worth living again.
"That's not how I felt then. But to tell you how I got here today, I have to go back to when I first met John Boliver. John and I worked at the Baptist Homes, a nursing facility in Castle Shannon, Pa. My mother introduced us and we became instant friends.
"John was so easy to like. He was friendly and outgoing, always with a twinkle in his eye. A couple of months into our friendship, John asked me to be his date at a party he was throwing. Of course I said I would go. He asked me to dance to a slow song that came on the stereo, and that dance was the beginning of a great love in my life.
"John and I married the following summer. We had two beautiful children, Matthew and Melissa. John loved fatherhood and it suited him. Really, he was a kid in an adult body. We bought a house and we spent Melissa's first Christmas in it.
"That's when Saddam Hussein entered our lives. Before I knew what was happening, John was a soldier in Desert Storm and I knew my life would never be the same.
"The day of Feb. 25, I had been out with my sister. I returned home to find family members waiting for me. My brother was standing in my living room and the television was on. On the TV, I saw soldiers running and yelling, and chaos, and sirens blasting.
"But that didn't catch my attention as much as the look on my brother's face. He asked me where John was in Saudi. I told him I didn't know. He said that there was a Scud attack in Dhahran and the missile hit a warehouse that they thought was housing the 14th.
"As I was taking in what he was telling me, the room started to spin and a feeling of dread came flooding over me. I asked if there were any casualties. He said that there were some, but most were injuries.
"I knew that John was in that warehouse. My family tried to reassure me that chances were he was injured. But in my spirit I knew he was gone. I had already felt the separation. I waited all night for the officer to come. And at 6 a.m., my doorbell rang.
"I opened the door and there stood Lt. Col. Richard White. He had so much pain in his eyes. I saw how difficult it was for him to tell me that my husband, Spc. John Boliver Jr., had been killed in action due to injuries from a Scud missile attack.
"A few weeks after John's funeral, my friend invited me for dinner. Her husband asked me how I was doing. I told him that I was having problems sleeping at night. The nightmares were so terrible. I was trying not to sleep at all. He told me something then that helped to change my life.
"He said, 'Paula, you need to find an anchor to hold on to when you go through the worst times of grief -- something stable that cannot be taken away from you so that the waves of grief don't sweep you away.'
"So I looked for my anchor. The only thing I had that could never be taken away from me was knowing that God loved me. He loved me so much and he wanted to comfort me and to heal my heart. Jeremiah 29:11 was one of the many scriptures that meant so much to me. 'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'
"That was what I needed to rebuild my life.
"The second spring after John's death, I went outside on my deck. The sun was shining, the trees were budding and the smells of spring were in the air. And I realized that I was enjoying the sun on my face and the smells of spring. It was as if everything was in color, where up to that point I was seeing in black and white. That day, I realized that I was getting better, that someday I would enjoy life again.
"Four years after I lost John, I met Phil Wukovich. The kids and I fell in love with him and he married us. He made our family complete. Then God gave us Alison, our 19-month-old daughter, born with Down's Syndrome. She was born with two little holes in her heart that were life-threatening.
"I pleaded with God to spare her life. I knew the pain of loss and didn't want to go through that again. God answered my prayer. He healed her heart and now she has a healthy heart. And she's the love of my life. She brings me so much joy. When she smiles, her whole face smiles. God took all the love that I had lost and gave it back to me … and multiplied it.
"This is just my story. All of us from the 14th have a story. We all have wounds and scars on our hearts that make up the stories of our lives. But if those wounds and scars make us more compassionate to those who are suffering, if we are more grateful for everything we have in our lives and for the ones we love, and if we are stronger to face the difficulties that lie ahead on this journey we call life, then the sacrifice our soldiers made is all the more meaningful for us and for all those whose lives we touch every day. Because we are better human beings. And that's a legacy to leave our children.
"I am also so grateful to my family, who loved John so much and grieved with me, to my children who are my angels. They gave me reason to get up every morning and gave me so much love. And most of all to my Mom who was the best friend I ever had. She passed away four years ago. I miss her so much.
"I also want to thank the families of the 14th. We have cried together and laughed together. We have shared our deepest pains and our greatest joys. Your strength gave me strength and your courage gave me courage. The circumstances of our meeting were so tragic and yet I am so grateful to have known you.
"And to Janet Glasser, our family support coordinator at the 99th Regional Support Command, you were the thread. You went so far above what your job required of you. You have been like a big sister to me. I can't even begin to thank you for everything you've done.
"To my husband, Phil, for always loving me and letting me be who I am. For taking Matt and Melissa into your life and making them your own. For our little Alison, who we are so privileged to be parents to.
"And my utmost gratitude to John Boliver for the love he brought into my life, for the two children he made with me, for all the laughter and all the silly arguments. I loved it all and I wouldn't change a thing. You taught me so much about courage. I will always hold you in my heart until we meet again in glory."